About Fagatele Bay National Marine Sanctuary


Visiting Fagatele Bay National Marine Sanctuary

Protected Species

In 2003, American Samoa declared all its territorial seas as a Whale and Turtle Sanctuary. This visionary action complimented federal and local regulations that prohibit any harassment or take of marine mammals and sea turtles. Further protections have been recently extended to highly prized fishes such as the Maori wrasse and the bumphead parrot fish. Because of decades of overfishing, these species are low in number, and smaller in size.

Not every nation has these same regulations however, and the laws are not always obeyed. In 1973, Congress passed the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The purpose of the ESA is to recover species that are in danger of human-cause extinction. Because so many species are listed when their populations have hit rock bottom, it takes long-term intensive efforts to bring them back to viable and sustainable levels. Of the 128 U.S. species that were on the endangered species list when the ESA was passed in 1973, 59% have recovered, are improving, or are in stable condition. Many more species have been rescued from certain extinction. National Marine Sanctuaries like Fagatele Bay protect and preserve endangered species and their unique marine environments, ensuring that they will always have a home.

Humpback WhalesHumpback Whale

Each year, humpback whales (Megaptera novangeleae) come to the warm tropical waters of Fagatele Bay National Marine Sanctuary to court and calve. Humpback whales can grow up to 45 feet long. They are baleen whales, which means that they strain plankton, krill and small fish out of the water for food. All marine mammals are protected by Federal law through the Marine Mammal Protection Act, and locally through the American Samoa Government.

For over a century, humpback whales were hunted for their skin and for oil. Although most countries now have laws against killing whales some countries would like to resume whaling. Humpback whale numbers plummeted during the decades of whaling, and are only now showing recovery. However, the humpback whales that ply the southern hemisphere (they feed in the Austral summer in Antarctica and migrate to warm, tropical waters in the winter) have not seen the increased numbers that other northern hemisphere groups have enjoyed. It was discovered that whaling had continued, largely by the Soviet Union, during the decades following the whaling ban that began in the 1970s. Now that their whaling activities have stopped, it is hoped that the southern population will begin to recover. Fagatele Bay NMS has been conducting a whale survey and monitoring since 2003, for more information, visit the research page.

Sea Turtles

American Samoa is home to several species of sea turtles, all are considered threatened or endangered. Most people never seen the loggerheads, leatherbacks and olive ridley sea turtles that live further offshore, but the green and hawksbill turtles are coastal dwellers, and are occasionally seen.

Green Turtle
The green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas; laumei in Samoan) migrates between its feeding grounds in the western Pacific, primarily Fiji, Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands, and the eastern Pacific where it comes to mate and lay eggs. Green sea turtles can live over 20 years before reaching reproductive age, and then can live another 4 or 5 decades. However, their numbers are decreasing, largely due to hunting pressure in island nations that have not outlawed the practice, or do not enforce the laws.

hawksbill turtleHawksbill Turtle
Hawksbill turtles live year round in Samoa. Their numbers are low, but appear to be increasing slightly. Hawksbills are not usually hunted for food because of toxins in their flesh, but can become entangled in fishing gear and drown. Hawksbill turtles eat higher on the food chain, and they like to eat sponges and other sessile (attached to the bottom) critters. Often the turtle's prey have toxic chemicals in their bodies, which they use to protect themselves against predators (but not turtles!). Hawksbills will accumulate these toxins in their own bodies, making them undesirable for people to eat-if they do, they will get seriously, or fatally ill. Unfortunately, their beautiful shells are desired for jewelry and other decoration, so they continue to be hunted throughout their range.

But hunters are not the only problem as sea turtle populations worldwide continue to fall. Their homes, the coral reefs and seagrass communities are also dying out because of pollution, destructive fishing techniques and careless boaters and divers, as well as people who take the coral to make jewelry and various knick-knacks for souvenir shops.

Since female sea turtles do not begin to lay eggs until they are around 20 years old, it will take a long time, even if they are safe from hunters, for the population to recover.

Turtle Tidbits
Green sea turtles do not look “green”—the color refers to their flesh, which has a greenish hue due to their sea grass diet.
Green sea turtles grow up to over three feet in length and can weigh up to 300 pounds. The smaller hawksbills can reach up to three feet and over 200 pounds.
Turtles only come to shore to lay eggs or to occasionally bask in the sun.
A popular South Pacific legend tells that mother sea turtles eat their young. Not true, green sea turtles are completely vegetarian.
The temperature of the beach where the eggs mature can dictate the sex ratio of the hatchlings. If it’s too hot, more males are born. Global warming may impact the ratio of males to females, further threatening the recovery of sea turtles.
Leatherback turtles eat open ocean critters, and prefer a diet of jellyfish. Unfortunately plastic bags look a lot like floating jellyfish and sadly, dead turtles with plastic bags in their gut are not uncommon.
Female turtles will come to shore every few weeks in the breeding season to lay clutches of eggs. Although she may lay several hundred eggs, very few will survive to adulthood.
Hunters are not the only problem as sea turtle populations worldwide continue to fall. Their homes, the coral reefs and seagrass communities are also dying out because of pollution, destructive fishing techniques and careless boaters and divers, as well as people who take the coral to make jewelry and various knick-knacks for souvenir shops.

Protection

In the United States and in American Samoa it is against the law to kill or harm a sea turtle. Not every nation has these same regulations however, and the laws are not always obeyed. In 1973, Congress passed the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The purpose of the ESA is to recover species that are in danger of human-cause extinction. Because so many species are listed when their populations have hit rock bottom, it takes long-term intensive efforts to bring them back to viable and sustainable levels. Of the 128 U.S. species that were on the endangered species list when the ESA was passed in 1973, 59% have been recovered, are improving, or are in stable condition. Many more species have been rescued from certain extinction. National Marine Sanctuaries like Fagatele Bay protect and preserve endangered species and their unique marine environments, ensuring that they will always have a home.

Want to learn more about protected species? Check these links:

http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/

http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/education/turtles.htm



Revised January 24, 2014 by National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa | Contact Us | For Employees | NMS Foundationleaving site
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